by Richard Fitt
at a performance on 8th June 2018
I have to admit this is a show that has been on my bucket list for quite a while and which for various reasons I have not managed to see before. All I knew about it, apart from of course its Monty Python roots of which I am a big fan and sadly old enough to have watched the original show, was that everybody told me it was very funny and I couldn’t help but enjoy it. They weren’t wrong and in the hands of a top outfit like Sharnbrook this was always going to be a great evening. And so it proved! From moment one!
In an adaptation of the Eric Idle’s own variation of the standard announcement about phones and photography we were treated to the first of many funny moments and it went something like this. “Please feel free to let your phones ring willie nillie, text and send messages and take as many photographs of the show as you like. Oh no, er, sorry, you’re not allowed to do any of that! (small pause) – Oh S***t! That got the ribs hurting straight away.
After an opening comedic narration by The Historian (Neil Clark) the set opened to the misinterpretation of his discourse on Medieval England with a group of Finns singing the ‘Fisch Schlapping Song,’ which immediately told me from the splendidly colourful costumes that the wardrobe department (Tracy Arnold, Sue Lander, Ann Wood, Virginia Pope and Susan Moore (Wigs)) had once again surpassed themselves. And so it continued throughout the show from peasant to priest to knight and of course to the glitter of costumes worn by the Laker Girls!
The set construction by The Monday and Wednesday Night Teams was cleverly simply with mostly the use of trucks, a collapsible flat for the rabbit scene, a super-giant Trojan ‘rabbit,’ topped off with a castle wall and two turrets on the galley above the stage. Not to forget the ‘very expensive’ forest, cleverly turned into such from its deliberately pathetic initial foliage by the military precision and instant appearance of the trees from all sides. Very well done to Stage Manager Graham Strigger and his backstage crew!
A special mention also to Sue Lander and Zandra Saxby for the splendid props, especially when a full sized cow comes flying off the castle ramparts bowling over knights in its path!
The lighting by Sam Whately was well washed and cued immaculately throughout and sound by Nathan Grovier was absolutely crystal, with the exception of the galley where I’m afraid I did struggle to catch some of the dialogue during the Trojan rabbit scene. It may just have been mic problems as we did have a delayed start because of them. Is there ever a show that doesn’t have mic problems!
The music on this occasion was a backing track supplied by the licence holder, which in the expert hands of MD Mike Gibbons was cued to perfection and flowed together with professional ease and certainly would have fooled anybody into assuming there was a live orchestra hidden away back stage.
In the very experienced hands of David Midlane, here showing himself to be as good at directing as he is at performing, this was never going to be anything other than top draw. With some good old fashioned and well drilled choreography from Co-Director Cara Sigsworth, the pace was spot on and relentless throughout and hardly a comedic opportunity missed.
The first thing to say about the actors is a salutation to Ian Hammond-Stark who played King Arthur at two weeks’ notice after Barry Thompson was unfortunately indisposed. Meanwhile I wish Barry a speedy recovery and rapid return to the boards. Surely, I asked, he must have done this part before? Not so, but he did know some of the songs and we did give him an extra rehearsal, came the tongue in cheek reply. I tip my hat to you Sir, with a voice to die for and some deft acting skills with faultless comic timing, even if you did corpse at one point, that was a remarkable piece of work in such a short space of time!
As for the rest of the Knights their characterisation was simply splendid. The very versatile David Russell as the ‘Not so brave’ Sir Robin, whose camp singing and dancing was sublime. Lester Cooke as the handsome, violent and, as it turns out, ‘gay’ Sir Lancelot, had a deft comedic touch, especially in ‘Not Dead Yet,’ but stay clear when he has a shovel in his hand! It looked like he really had hit ‘Not Dead Fred’ over the head! John Stevens as a ‘very silly’ Sir Galahad, again sublime comedic timing and Douglas Jones as Sir Bedevere & Concorde in his first ever role with Sharnbrook and his first since his school days. He was in high company here and more than proving he was up to the job. Great casting of all of them.
And then we come to the super Leisa Cook as ‘Lady of the Lake,’ who again not only has a voice to die for but delivers comedic lines with a such ease. ‘Whatever happened To My Part’ was a side splitting highlight of the show.
But my standout performance has to be Bewlay Stanton as Patsy. That wonderfully gormless expression he kept up for the whole show and a perfect rendition of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side.’ You just couldn’t take your eyes off him – brilliant piece of work!
Of other notables to stand out a special mention has to made of Jim Goodbody, who had me doing a double take when he appeared as Knight of NI – on stilts! Wow! Samuel Robinson as Prince Herbert, Andrew Akhurst as Maynard, Roger Wiltshire as the ever-shrinking Black Knight, Gary McEwan as Tim the enchanter, Mark Woodham as The Mayor and Ken Wilde as The Guard, all enhanced the production immensely.
And then of course the splendidly colourful and well drilled Laker Girls: Tracey Arnold (also played The Head Knight), Laura Backhurst, Jamie Bartlam, Kathryn Rose (also the Minstrel), Isabelle Slow, Gail Thorburn and Beth Webb.
Or yea, and some uncredited long white-haired old bloke, who appeared on a video as God, swearing a lot..??
So a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Well done to all involved, this is a group at the top of its game delivering high class entertainment and rightly receiving some well-deserved accolades!
Am I allowed to say I’m glad it was Sharnbrook that introduced me to Spamalot? Probably not but my wife is!